Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is nothing if not decisive in his views, and has a undisguised fondness for the bearish perspective. But he was correct on the 2008 inflation/commodities headfake, saying repeatedly that deflationary forces would prevail when that was decidedly a minority view. He is also a Euro-skeptic, and I’m less comfortable with that position. The EU is due to come under strain, but that does not mean it will shatter (in fact, for any country to exit is probably more difficult and traumatic than for the powers that be to come up with a muddle-through. But the period while fixes are being devised could be fraught indeed (and that seems to be his current position, BTW).
If things work out badly (and I see the odds of that as reasonably high; China is looking more and more like late 1980s Japan), they will work out very badly, markets are highly connected and if the right dominoes fall, many others go down in fast sequence. So the idea that the amplitude on the downside is likely to be extreme is very plausible. But he has also made a timing as well as a depth call, and sees things unravelling pretty soon. That could prove to be correct, but one thing shorts know all too well is that obvious-seeming outcomes can take much longer to come to pass than they ever thought.
Some of his observations seem spot on, in particular, that the Fed will lose its nerve and abandon its efforts to withdraw from quantitative easing, despite noises now to the contrary, that the dollar will rally near-term, and the yen will break.
From the Telegraph:
The contraction of M3 money in the US and Europe over the last six months will slowly puncture economic recovery as 2010 unfolds, with the time-honoured lag of a year or so. Ben Bernanke will be caught off guard, just as he was in mid-2008 when the Fed drove straight through a red warning light with talk of imminent rate rises – the final error that triggered the implosion of Lehman, AIG, and the Western banking system.
As the great bear rally of 2009 runs into the greater Chinese Wall of excess global capacity, it will become clear that we are in the grip of a 21st Century Depression – more akin to Japan’s Lost Decade than the 1840s or 1930s, but nothing like the normal cycles of the post-War era. …The vast East-West imbalances that caused the credit crisis are no better a year later, and perhaps worse. Household debt as a share of GDP sits near record levels in two-fifths of the world economy. Our long purge has barely begun. That is the elephant in the global tent….
Yields on AAA German, French, US, and Canadian bonds will slither back down for a while in a fresh deflation scare. Exit strategies will go back into the deep freeze. Far from ending QE, the Fed will step up bond purchases. Bernanke will get religion again and ram down 10-year Treasury yields, quietly targeting 2.5pc. The funds will try to play the liquidity game yet again, piling into crude, gold, and Russian equities, but this time returns will be meagre. They will learn to respect secular deflation.
Weak sovereigns will buckle. The shocker will be Japan, our Weimar-in-waiting…The Bank of Japan will pull the emergency lever on QE. The country will flip from deflation to incipient hyperinflation. The yen will fall out of bed, outdoing China’s yuan in the beggar-thy-neighbour race to the bottom. By then China too will be in a quandary. Wild credit growth can mask the weakness of its mercantilist export model for a while, but only at the price of an asset bubble. Beijing must hit the brakes this year, or store up serious trouble. It will make as big a hash of this as Western central banks did in 2007-2008.
The European Central Bank will stick to its Wagnerian course, standing aloof as ugly loan books set off wave two of Europe’s banking woes. The Bundesbank will veto proper QE until it is too late, deeming it an implicit German bail-out for Club Med.
More hedge funds will join the EMU divergence play, betting that the North-South split has gone beyond the point of no return for a currency union. This will enrage the Eurogroup. Brussels will dust down its paper exploring the legal basis for capital controls. Italy’s Giulio Tremonti will suggest using EU terror legislation against “speculators”.
Wage cuts will prove a self-defeating policy for Club Med, trapping them in textbook debt-deflation. The victims will start to notice this…
Greece’s Prime Minister Papandréou will balk at EMU immolation. The Hellenic Socialists will call Europe’s bluff, extracting loans that gain time but solve nothing. Berlin will climb down and pay, but only once: thereafter, Zum Teufel.
In the end, the Euro’s fate will be decided by strikes, street protest, and car bombs as the primacy of politics returns…the mood music will be bad enough to knock the euro off its stilts.
The dollar rally will gather pace. America’s economy – though sick – will shine within the even sicker OECD club….Mervyn King’s pre-emptive QE and timely devaluation will bear fruit this year, sparing us the worst.
By mid to late 2010, we will have lanced the biggest boils of the global system. Only then, amid fear and investor revulsion, will we touch bottom. That will be the buying opportunity of our lives.